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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rookie Invasion

The Bucs announced the signing of three undrafted free agents on Friday, and also brought in almost 30 other young players for extended tryouts


Mississippi WR Chris Collins is one of three undrafted rookies signed by Tampa Bay on Friday

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie class has grown to 11 players. Depending upon the action at this weekend's rookie mini-camp, it could eventually grow larger.

On Friday, the Bucs announced the signings of three undrafted rookie free agents: Mississippi wide receiver Chris Collins, Brigham Young center Scott Jackson and Utah defensive end Josh Savage.

Those three will join the team's eight draft picks of the past weekend and any other first-year players on the roster for a trio of mini-camp practices on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A total of 28 other rookies and first-year players who have been signed to tryout contracts will flesh out the field over the weekend.

Usually, the group of rookie free agents signed by Tampa Bay in the hours after the draft is larger than the one actually produced during the seven rounds of selecting. Last year, for instance, the Bucs drafted six players then added 13 more during the free-for-all signing period that followed. Three of those 13 appeared on the active roster at some point during the regular season – TE Will Heller, T Anthony Davis and CB Ronyell Whitaker – and another three – LB Mike Brown, WR Fabian Davis and RB Earnest Graham – are back with the team for another try in 2004.

In 2002, the Bucs drafted eight players and signed 12 more undrafted free agents. In 2001, it was nine draftees and 15 free agents. In 2000, the count was five on draft weekend, 14 on Monday.

So why was the ratio so drastically different this year? The answer lies in March and early April, when the Bucs went on a surprisingly extensive free agent shopping spree. The final roster turnover from 2003 to 2004 may not be much larger in sheer numbers than in previous years, but the Bucs have brought in a lot of veteran talent to compete for jobs this offseason. By the time the team was done shopping free agency and drafting eight players, there were very few vacancies on the 80-man offseason roster.

Still, the most coveted rookie free agents are heavily fought over by interested NFL teams, with every franchise turning its draft room into a switchboard as soon as the last drafted name has been called. The Bucs had competition for the services of Collins, Jackson and Savage, but were able to convince the three young players that a real opportunity awaited in Tampa. Florida's favorable weather and the Bucs' recent success likely made good bargaining cards, as well.

Collins (6-0, 192) finished his collegiate career as the all-time leading receiver at Ole Miss. His 198 receptions and 24 touchdowns shattered the previous marks set by Grant Heard (142 and 16) and his 2,621 yards surpassed the record set by Willie Green (2,274). Collins also excelled as a 'gunner' on Mississippi's punt-coverage squad, recording 22 tackles, showing the kind of versatility that can only help on a team that is emphasizing special teams improvement. He played his prep ball in Liberty, Mississippi.

Jackson (6-4, 300) originally came to BYU in 1997, but several injuries and a two-year mission delayed his breakthrough until 2002. He then started at center for the Cougars for two seasons, proving to be a strong pass-blocker for a team that averaged 313 yards of offense per game last fall. Jackson hails from Rancho Palos Verdes, California where, as a two-way prep lineman, he was the L.A. Times Lineman of the Year as a senior.

Savage (6-4, 276) was a three-year starter at left defensive end for the Utes, who compiled a 10-2 record in 2003 and shut out Southern Miss in the Liberty Bowl, 17-0. As a senior, he turned in 47 tackles (29 solo), two sacks and nine passes defensed and was chosen as a team captain. He is a native of Hillcrest, Utah.

The 28 players brought in for weekend tryouts come from schools across the nation, ranging from nearby South Florida to Washington State. Perhaps the most recognizable name on the list (apart from wide receiver Corey Smith, who is not that Corey Smith) is that of South Florida quarterback Marquel Blackwell, a four-year starter for the Bulls who essentially rewrote the school's offensive record book. Blackwell got a shot with the New York Jets as a rookie last year and has also played with the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena League.

All but three of the tryout players – Blackwell, wide receiver Terrance Metcalf and kicker Matt Simonton – are rookies. Below is a list of the 28 players who will participate in this weekend's mini-camp on tryout contracts.

Taso ApostolidisDLTemple
Steve BaggsLBBethune-Cookman
Kenny BaileyCBGeorgia
Travis BlanchardSMississippi
Marquel BlackwellQBSouth Florida
John BurkeCBArkansas State
Duron CrosonRBFort Valley State
Alan DunnOLTusculum College
Andrews ElginLBJackson State
Tim Fa'aitaOLArizona State
Eric FaasenOLToledo
Jermaine GreenRBWashington State
Jack HuntSLouisiana State
Kane IoaneSMontana State
Chad JasmineRBClemson
Shane JonesDLArizona State
Omar LaurenceCBCentral Florida
Mark MorozOLWake Forest
Terrance MetcalfWRSouth Carolina State
Justin MontgomeryDLKansas State
Josh OttLBBoston College
Ryan SchneiderQBCentral Florida
Mike SheppardSNorth Dakota State
Matt SimontonKSouthern Illinois
Corey SmithWRMontana State
Scott VerhalenPEast Texas Baptist
Mark WeivodaDLIdaho State
Roy WilliamsDLCentral Florida
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